Capybara Enclosure Design. Husbandry and Welfare of Capybaras in Zoos and Captive Environments

When designing an enclosure for capybaras it is essential to provide them with an environment in which they can display their natural behaviours. The two most important requirements for a capybara enclosure are a large pond/pool and access to grazing.

The size of the enclosure should be about one acre or half a hectare for a herd of about 15 capybaras. The size required for the enclosure will depend to some extent on the size of the herd. The landscape of the enclosure should reflect the natural habitat of a capybara living in the wild as far as possible.

pond Donguri eating bamboo

The Large Pond with Trees and Bushes

Capybaras are semiaquatic, and can be very energetic and playful in water, therefore a large pond or pool should be provided. Capybaras are grazing animals, grasses form the staple of their diet, which means they should have access to grass.

 WN Aki escapes to eat grass August 2012

This five year old female capybara escaped from her enclosure where there was no grazing in order to eat grass. Interestingly capybaras often know what food is best for them. The capybaras at one zoo do not like the carrots which are given to them and try to escape in order to eat grass.

It is also essential that the keepers who care for the capybaras have a deep interest in and understanding of capybara behaviour and animal welfare. They must spend time observing the capybaras so that they can recognise behaviours and understand the relationships between the individual capybaras in order that they can manage the herd to ensure the best welfare and to avoid aggression. They should observe the condition of the capybaras including their size/weight, the condition of their coat/hair, how much they eat, how they chew (for possible tooth problems) and any signs of abnormal behaviours so if there are any developing health issues these can be treated at an early stage.

empty pond who stole

This view of the pond when it was emptied for cleaning, gives an idea of the placement of stone ledges and stepping stones which allow the capybaras easy access in and out of the pond, and also provide ledges where the capybaras can rest partially submerged in water.

Capybaras in captivity may be fed pellets and appropriate vegetables to ensure that their dietary requirements are met. There should be a feeding station for each capybara to ensure that every capybara gets enough to eat. If capybaras in a herd are competing for food this will lead to aggression. Once aggression becomes established in the herd it is extremely difficult to eradicate. For this reason every effort should be made to ensure that feeding does not involve competition between capybaras for food. The keepers may need to sit beside and guard some capybaras at the bottom of the hierarchy if they are not getting enough to eat because other larger and more senior (in the hierarchy) capybaras intimidate them and push them away from food.

In their natural habitat in South America researchers have not found evidence of a female hierarchy. However, in captivity where the capybaras are living in a confined environment and sometimes competing for food or facilities, a strong female hierarchy develops. The keepers will need to be observant and ensure the well-being of capybaras at the bottom of the hierarchy. Male capybaras are hierarchical and can be very aggressive to other males including their own adult male offspring.

WN scent marking capybara straddling plant for a blog

Capybaras love to mark  their territory by rubbing their anal scent glands on twigs, as in this photo, branches or other vegetation

If a capybara is so badly injured that he/she has to be taken out of the herd and put in a separate enclosure to recover from the wounds, it will almost certainly be impossible for that capybara to be reintroduced back into the herd. The capybaras most likely to attack an injured capybara are those immediately below the injured capybara in the hierarchy.

Enclosure Enrichment: the purpose of enrichment, both environmental and cognitive, is to ensure the well-being of animals in captivity. Enrichment allows animals to make choices and lead interesting and stimulating lives, and to be able to exhibit their natural behaviours.

The physical enrichment of the enclosure should include:

A large pool or pond. The capybaras should have easy access to this pond or pool. Depending on the number of capybaras the size of the pond/pool should be at least 12 feet/4 m x 24 feet/8 m. Most of this pond should be 4 feet/1.3 m in depth, but some areas should be at shallow depths of 1 and 2 feet, .3 and .6 m, so that the capybara can rest partially submerged in water, and also easily get in and out of the pond/pool. When the weather is hot capybaras go into the water to thermoregulate, i.e. to keep cool. They also seek water as a refuge from danger. In captivity a capybara might be being chased and therefore seek refuge in water. Additionally, if the capybara is injured in some way, perhaps his/her teeth have broken at the root (capybaras have hypsodont teeth which means they grow continually. These broken teeth will grow back in just over two weeks) and the capybara feels vulnerable, he/she will seek refuge in water.

WN pond play

Capybaras are very playful and energetic in the pond or pool. It is essential that this pond/pool is large enough for capybaras to exercise and express their natural behaviours.

Shelter: the enclosure must provide some shelter from sun, heat and rain. This could be provided by trees and bushes, or by a man-made structure.

Enclosures in Cooler Climates: Capybaras prefer a temperature of at least 24°C or 75°F. If the capybara enclosure is in a climate with cold winters than the capybaras must be provided with a sheltered hut with heating to prevent suffering and frostbite.

Grass: it is essential for capybaras to have access to grazing. Capybaras’ digestive system has evolved over 30 million years for a diet of grasses which are high in fibre but low in calories. In their natural habitat, in South America, capybaras eat grasses, aquatic plants, sage and chew on the bark of bushes and trees. For the health of capybara teeth it is essential that they have access to coarse materials to chew on in order to control the growth of their teeth. Several capybaras in captivity have died because their diet was based on soft foods which did not ensure the health of their teeth. It is essential for animals in captivity to exhibit their natural behaviours and grazing is one of the most important behaviours for a capybara. Capybaras did not evolve to eat two meals a day; they must be allowed to have access to grazing/appropriate food when they are hungry.

Juanita eating grass

It is important that capybaras can graze when they feel hungry.

Diet: the capybara diet should be augmented by the provision of appropriate pellets. If there is insufficient grass to provide enough grazing daily than green leaf vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce etc can also be fed. The vegetable should not have a high sugar content. Capybaras should not eat carrots as carrots have too high a level of Vitamin A and this can cause liver damage. Many capybaras in Japan suffer an early death due to liver damage. Capybaras should also not eat fruit because of the high sugar content. A probiotic like Benebac or Bio 3 can be given to treat mild cases of diarrhoea.

Appropriate Vegetation: this should include branches or palm fronds and perhaps leaves which provide soft bedding for the capybaras to lie on when resting or sleeping. Capybaras like to mark their territory by rubbing their anal scent glands over vegetation such as branches and palm fronds. As mentioned above it is essential for the health of capybara teeth that they have access to coarse vegetation, like branches or palm fronds, to chew on. Some capybaras like to chew on stones. These stones must be hard so that they do not disintegrate in the capybaras mouth when chewed, and get swallowed causing injury to their digestive tract.

It is essential that animals in captivity are able to express their natural behaviours. It is also very important that the visiting public should see how animals behave in their natural habitat.

Romeo swimming

Capybaras are very graceful as they swim in this large pool.

The lives of animals in captivity can be very boring and boredom leads to stress. To avoid boredom and stress the enclosure should provide cognitive and occupational activities to stimulate the minds of the capybaras and encourage physical activity to keep the capybaras healthy.

These enrichment activities can include the appropriate vegetation mentioned above and other natural objects which can be manipulated or played with. Feeding can also be done in a way that provides entertainment for the capybaras. For example, branches of bamboo can be positioned in different parts of the enclosure so that the capybaras have to rise up on their hind legs to eat it or pull it down. Branches of bamboo can be tied to the bushes overhanging the pond/pool so that the capybaras can entertain themselves trying to rise up to eat it. Food pellets can be scattered, or hidden in different areas for the capybaras to find.

The activities described above would also provide cognitive enrichment as the capybaras engage in problem-solving to achieve their food reward.

Sensory and Social Enrichment: capybaras are a highly social and gregarious species. A capybara should never be housed alone, on its own in an enclosure. This would be extremely stressful and would lead to changes in the capybara’s behaviour and personality. Stress levels can be determined by analysing faeces for the presence of stress hormones like cortisol. Extreme stress can lead to changes in the brain structure and an early death.

As capybaras are extremely social and very responsive to tactile stimulation, it is important that the zookeepers responsible for the capybaras pet them and are very friendly. Initially the capybaras may not trust the keeper, so the keeper first has to gain the trust of the capybara in order to get close enough to pet the capybara. To achieve this the keeper could offer food or perhaps a branch of bamboo, and when the capybara comes close to eat the food the keeper can slowly and gently begin to pet the capybara. Capybaras love to be petted; their hair rises, they lie down and roll over and vocalise. Capybara vocalisations include the most beautiful sounds. Positive human animal relationships are vitally important for the well-being of the capybaras living under the care of humans.

If visitors to the zoo will be able to enter the capybara enclosure it is essential that there is an area of the enclosure which is not accessible to these visitors. This is to allow the capybaras to go somewhere private otherwise they may become stressed if they cannot choose whether they wish to be in the company of human visitors or not. Also, ideally, there should be an island in the pond to which the capybaras can go to escape humans.

20% May 16 2014 Mud 045

Capybaras Enjoy Mud.  They enjoy rolling in mud and it is good for their skins.

Mud: capybaras love to roll in mud. It is good for the condition of their skin and can help to exterminate mites or ticks. Mud provides capybaras with enjoyment and relaxation. Rolling in mud is a natural behaviour which capybaras should be able to exhibit in a captive environment.

Animal Welfare is the foundation of what all good zoos do. We can provide good Animal Welfare by taking a behaviour-based husbandry approach to how we manage animals. That means we do not focus on what we are providing for the animals. Rather we focus on what the animal’s behaviour is telling us that the animals need. We do this by recognising that all of the behaviours which an animal exhibits are meaningful, and therefore helpful in informing us about what that animal may need.

Behaviour based husbandry incorporates all elements of good animal welfare: good health, psychological well-being, and the expression of natural behaviours. In addition to the design and enrichment of the enclosure, we must also ensure positive human animal relationships. It is essential that the enclosure and husbandry provides the animal with choices so that the animal has some control over its life, its environment and its daily routines, as it would in the wild in its natural habitat.

Positive human animal interactions are the foundation of providing good welfare for the animals we manage. These animals rely on us to provide for all their needs: food, shelter, enrichment, mating opportunities and companionship. If we are unresponsive, negative, unpredictable or aggressive in our interactions with our animals we can create significant stress for them.

At all times it is vitally important that we are aware of how what we do may affect our animals.

The basic Animal Welfare protocol is The Five Freedoms:     

Freedom from hunger and thirst: by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

Freedom from discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

Freedom from pain, injury or disease: by prevention through rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Freedom to express normal behaviour: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.

Freedom from fear and distress: by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

The Five Welfare Domains: However, The Five Freedoms protocol was developed in 1965 to rectify the suffering of farm animals, i.e. animals used in agriculture. The Five Freedoms protocol simply emphasises what is our basic duty but does not go far enough to ensure the well-being that we would want for animals kept in captivity and in zoos. We need to provide animals with enjoyable and positive experiences. To address this, David Mellor, an Animal Welfare Scientist working in New Zealand, has developed The Five Welfare Domains. The aim of The Five Welfare Domains is to ensure that animals have positive physical and emotional experiences. This is essential for good animal welfare and the well-being of animals in captivity.

In 2009 Vicky A. Melfi, Zoologist and Animal Welfare Scientist, Identified three primary gaps in our knowledge and approach to zoo animal welfare. Two of these are relevant to capybaras:

One: We tend to focus on indicators of poor welfare and assume that a lack of poor welfare is equivalent to good welfare. However, a lack of poor welfare does not necessarily indicate good welfare.

Two: it is important that we look at an animal’s housing and husbandry from the perspective of what that species needs and not from a human perspective.

Zoos have traditionally built hygienic enclosures that meet human requirements in terms of cleaning and sweeping and housing structures, but which do not provide for the psychological needs of the animals they are designed to house.

In good zoos today these traditional enclosures have been redeveloped or modified as we recognise that animals have very different behavioural priorities to people. Understanding Animal Behaviour is a vital component to providing appropriate housing and husbandry. It is important to remember that the expression of these behaviours has evolved over millions of years and conferred evolutionary success and indeed the survival of this species.

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Juanita’s Story. A Baby Capybara Rescued from Her Mother’s Womb 母親の子宮から救助された

Juanita’s Story: A Baby Capybara Who Was Rescued from Her Mother’s Womb, and Survived Against All Odds, After Hunters Killed Her Mother. フアニタの話。 母親の子宮から救出されたベビーカピバラ。 ハンターズは母親を殺した。 驚くほど赤ちゃんは生き残った。

WN on the bed to

Juanita on the Bed Looking Dreamy

Gunshots rang out in the cold night air of the jungle followed by a sickening thud. Juan’s heart sank. He had seen three capybaras running for their lives through the undergrowth… when he reached her still warm body his heart sank further. One of the capybaras was a heavily pregnant female with three babies in her womb. Two of the babies had been injured by the hunter’s bullets but Juan was able to rescue the third pup.

 This was little Juanita’s introduction to the world of humans.

WN baby in daddy's arms telephone

Juan Holding Baby Juanita

Juanita’s story begins in Esquina in the province of Corrientes in Argentina, about eight hours drive from the capital Buenos Aires. It is a beautiful area but there is also much poverty and ignorance. Rivers are polluted with garbage even though many people rely on fishing for their sustenance. There is indiscriminate killing of wild animals even when this is illegal as is the case with hunting capybaras. Hunters frequently use packs of dogs which are deliberately underfed. There is often a total disregard for the welfare of animals.

As a boy, Juan often spent vacations with his family in Esquina, and the family now own a home there. Over the years Juan made many friends in the area some of whom go hunting. They repeatedly asked Juan to join them when they go hunting for wild boar. As an animal lover Juan has no desire to kill animals.

WN very cute One day old

Juanita, Just One Day Old

One night in Esquina Juan and Victoria very reluctantly join the group on a hunt for wild boar. On the far side of the lake Juan notices a large capybara watching them. Then to his horror one of the group begins to take aim. Juan tries to stop him but three shots ring out before he can intervene. Seconds earlier there had been three capybaras, now two are dead. Juan is very angry and very upset.

Juan’s heart sinks further when he discovers that one of the dead capybaras is heavily pregnant. The hunters have already begun to cut open the pregnant capybara as Juan approaches. Inside there are three baby capybaras. Two have been injured by the hunter’s bullets but Juan thinks the third pup might have a chance. Juan rescues her and ties her umbilical cord. Then he gently massages her until she begins to breathe. All this time Victoria has been sitting in the Jeep, her head bent down and covered in coats, trying to block out the tragedy that is unfolding for this capybara family in the cold night air of the jungle. Juan puts this tiny, vulnerable bundle of life inside his jacket and walks over to Victoria and tells her to keep the baby warm. Carpincha, the name they initially give her (carpincha is the Argentinian name for a female capybara) snuggles in Victoria’s warm lap. It is five in the morning now and the baby capybara has had nothing to eat. They find a pharmacy and buy some milk and baby formula. As soon as they get back to their cottage Victoria goes on the Internet desperate to find information on how to feed and look after a capybara. She can find no information and breaks down in tears, certain that little Carpincha is going to die.

WN 5 hours after rescue eyes closed

Juanita Five Hours After She is Rescued From Her Mother’s Womb

It starts to rain and Juan decides to return to Buenos Aries immediately as there will be fewer police checks when it is raining and they need to get Carpincha to a vet.

Victoria wraps Carpincha in a blanket and hides her in her rucksack at her feet. She is so afraid the police will stop them and discover the little capybara and take her away. After some time Victoria notices that Carpincha has not moved. Victoria panics and tells Juan to stop the car. Carefully they lift the small bundle out of the rucksack, their hearts beating, fearing the worst. To their immense relief Carpincha is still breathing. The heat and suffocation have caused her to pass out.

In the fresh air Carpincha begins to revive. Victoria gives her some milk and they continue their journey with the baby capybara sitting on Victoria’s lap. Victoria is increasingly fearful and sad that this little capybara entrusted into their care will not survive. This little bundle of life, so fragile, vulnerable and trusting has completely captured her heart.

WN sleeping beautiful face

Juanita Sleeping

They decide to call her Juanita, after Juan who rescued her and saved her life.

Early the next day Victoria takes little Juanita to the neighbourhood vet, but he knows nothing about capybaras. With mounting concern Victoria calls the zoo and speaks to their vet. Everything they have been doing is wrong. Capybaras cannot digest cow’s milk. Capybaras are lactose intolerant which means they cannot drink the milk of most other mammals.

On day four Juanita has diarrhoea which gets worse as the hours pass. Juanita becomes weaker. Victoria is becoming desperate. She phones an equine vet and he gives her the phone number of the leading exotic animal vet in the country, Dr Fernando Pedrosa. Victoria immediately phones him and makes an appointment to see him as soon as possible that day. She also finally gets the correct information on what to feed a capybara.

WN Victoria kisses J

Victoria Kisses Juanita

Dr Pedrosa tells her that Juanita has no chance of surviving. She has not had colestrum, found in a mother’s milk during the first five days of lactation, and considered essential to provide the antibodies the little capybara will need to fight off infections. Dr Pedrosa also says that the circumstances of her birth were so stressful that this will also undermine her chances of survival. On that day Juanita weighs 1200 grams.

The vet also tells Victoria to feed the little capybara lots of grass and green vegetables to overcome the diarrhoea.

Victoria leaves Dr Pedrosa’s office with a heavy heart, fighting back the tears.

The next few months are extremely stressful for Victoria and Juan, wondering if their little capybara will survive. Some days Juanita refuses to eat. However she likes to suck on clothes, so Victoria covers the nipple of Juanita’s milk bottle with gauze and Juanita begins to suckle.

WN J with Victoria

Juanita with Victoria

Against The Odds Juanita Has Survived. This Is Her Life Today:

Now two and a half years on Juanita is a thriving female capybara. Victoria and Juan through their devotion and commitment have kept Juanita alive against all odds.  She has stolen the heart of everyone who meets her. Victoria and Juan have moved house in order to provide her with the large, grass filled garden and swimming pool she needs.

WN one very muddy

Capybaras Love Mud and Mud is Very Good for Their Skin

When Victoria discovered that she was five weeks pregnant Juanita already knew this and had begun to act like a baby again, calling her with shrill whistles at 3 AM in the morning like she used to do when she was a baby and sucking on Victoria’s fingers for a long, long time until Victoria’s fingers began to hurt. I believe that Juanita could smell the hormonal changes that Victoria was experiencing which are probably similar to those of other mammals including capybaras. Juanita was two and one half years old at the time and it is interesting to speculate on her behaviour. Was she trying to tell Victoria that they didn’t need another baby, that she Juanita could be their baby again.

WN grazing in her large garden                               WN swimming in her large pool

Juan and Victoria moved house in order to give Juanita a large swimming pool and a huge grassy garden. Capybaras are semiaquatic. Their feet are partially webbed. Capybaras love to swim and play in water. They also mate and defecate in water. When the weather is very hot they go into water to thermoregulate, i.e. to make sure they do not get to It is essential that capybaras have access to grazing when ever they want. Grass is the most important constituent in their diet. In the wild capybaras eat grass, aquatic plants, and sage

Like all capybaras Juanita is very territorial and likes to mark her territory, which includes marking wallets, jackets and everything belonging to visitors. She is very frightened of the sound of barking dogs; do they evoke a memory of that fateful day when hunters with a pack of dogs murdered her mother?

JWM helping out in the kitchen

Juanita Likes To Take Charge in the Kitchen

Capybaras are very intelligent and emotionally they are very sensitive and sophisticated. Naturally they would like to control you if they can. I know from research that rats do not like to be controlled or to have their environment controlled. They want to be in control of their lives and I am sure it is the same with capybaras.

Juanita respects Victoria more when Victoria is firm with her and shows that she, Victoria, is higher in the hierarchy.

J with baby boxer dog WN

Juanita Loves Baby the Boxer

Juanita’s family now includes a hen and a rooster, who terrified her to begin with but who have now become firm friends. Victoria’s sister gave her a poodle. At first Juanita hated that poodle, a rival for the love of the humans she has bonded with. Several times Juanita tried to bite the poodle but these days she and the poodle have settled into a love/hate relationship. Juanita loves the family’s boxer dog, Baby and often sleeps nestled between Baby’s paws.

WN sitting on daddy's lap

Juanita, Now Two and a Half Years Old

Juanita likes to sleep with her head resting on Juan. If Juan is out of the house she likes to sleep curled up on Juan’s clothes. His smell seems to reassure her and give her comfort; the man who saved her life.

Capybaras as Pets: Prepare Your Home For A Pet Capybara.

All the carpets have been removed as capybaras like to mark their territory, mostly with urine that occasionally with faeces. Most of the furniture have been removed to protect the capybaras.

All the carpets have been removed as capybaras like to mark their territory, mostly with urine but occasionally with faeces. Most of the furniture has been removed to protect the capybaras.

 

Romeo sleep on the bed

Romeo asleep on the bed

 

 “Mouth Traps”

Accidents in the home and garden (yard) account for a significant proportion of pet capybara deaths. These may be caused by unsecured items, electrical cords or other totally unforeseen accidents involving furniture etc. Your capybara may also be involved in a serious accident by, for example, getting its leg trapped and panicking resulting in a broken leg and a bill for an operation to repair the injury costing $3000.

Poor little Romeo after the Operation for his broken leg  Photo by Elizabeth and Marvin

Poor little Romeo after the Operation for his broken leg
Photo by Elizabeth and Marvin

image (11) shaved bot

Poor little Romeo
Photo by Elizabeth and Marvin

Romeo's Broken Leg

Romeo’s Broken Leg

This happened to one friend who briefly left his capybara unattended in his vehicle outside his house. On being left alone his capybara panicked and jumped at the glass window, not understanding the concept of glass and thinking he could jump out of the vehicle.  He smashed up against the glass and as he  slipped down his leg became trapped in the door handle and the force of his body falling wrenched his little leg backwards and broke it.  Fortunately this friend’s sister-in-law is a vet and he was able to take his capybara immediately around to her clinic, where he was given pain medication and mild sedation and then taken to the best surgeon in town. Without this timely sequence of events this capybara would not have survived.

The furniture in the living room has been removed and replaced with bales of Hay for the capybaras to eat. The carpets have also been removed. Capybaras are wild animals whose behaviour patterns are not suitable for a typical family home.

The furniture in the living room has been removed and replaced with bales of Hay for the capybaras to eat. The carpets have also been removed.
Capybaras are wild animals whose behaviour patterns are not suitable for a typical family home.

 

This photo was taken in March 2013 before the carpets were removed. As the capybaras get older their innate behaviour patterns dictate their need to mark their territory. Mostly this is with urine but occasionally with faeces. Romeo with Tuff'n Sleeping on his Cushion in the Living Room

This photo was taken in March 2013 before the carpets were removed. As the capybaras get older their innate behaviour patterns dictate their need to mark their territory. Mostly this is with urine but occasionally with faeces. Romeo with Tuff’n Sleeping on his Cushion in the Living Room

 

All the furniture has been removed from the main living room and replaced by 2 bales of hay, a tub of drinking water and and 2 bowls of guinea pig food. Throughout the house all the Carpets have been removed as capybaras do like to mark their territory, mostly with urine but occasionally with faeces.

All the furniture has been removed from the main living room and replaced by 2 bales of hay, a tub of drinking water and and 2 bowls of guinea pig food. Throughout the house all the Carpets have been removed as capybaras do like to mark their territory, mostly with urine but occasionally with faeces.

Capybaras are naturally curious and like small children often use their mouths to investigate new objects.   With their razor sharp teeth this method of investigation can be potentially dangerous.

1.  Place all electrical cables out of reach of the capybara.   If you need to use some electrical wires at ground level considered putting them inside a protective casing. You could slit open a hose and put the wire inside, as in the photo below.

A hosepipe has been slit along its length, the cable, (electrical wire) has been placed inside.

A hosepipe has been slit along its length, the cable, (electrical wire) has been placed inside.

 

The cable to this computer has been put inside a hose so that inquisitive capybaras can't chew on it.

The cable to this computer has been put inside a hose so that inquisitive capybaras can’t chew on it.

2.  Remove all furniture that a baby capybara could crawl under and hide, and therefore be out of reach and inaccessible. This should include bed supports, chests of drawers, sofas etc. Your capybara may be quite nervous and frightened when it first arrives, and rush to hide somewhere it considers safe, but where it would be completely out of your reach.   Don’t ever pull a capybara by its leg, you could easily break  or dislocate the leg.

3.  Remove all but essential furniture. You can set aside one or more rooms, depending on the size of your home, as rooms that the capybara does not have free access to. You will probably want a ‘computer room’ for example.  You should use ‘child gates’ to secure the entrance, as an alternative to closing the door, so that the capybara does not feel abandoned and excluded from the herd.

4.  Remove all ornaments and clutter that would be within reach of a capybara. Remember a capybara can stand on its hind legs and a full grown capybara will be about 5 feet tall when standing upright. This should be obvious.

5.  No capybara should ever have to sleep alone. In the wild a capybara would never sleep alone and capybaras get very distressed if they are separated from the herd.   If your capybara is a house pet then you are the herd. A capybara on its own in the wild would not survive, so 30 million years of evolution have conditioned this anxiety response. If you are getting a capybara as a house pet, I believe you must let him/her sleep with you at night. In the early days he/she will be too small to jump on your bed, so it would be a good idea to put the mattress on the floor so the baby capybara can come and go at will.

No Capybara Should Ever Have To Sleep Alone.   Snuggling and sheltering from the rain. When each baby arrives she tries to push into the middle of the group for maximum warmth!, Jostling and waking up all the others. Hinase's babies, Aoba and Butter at Nagasaki BIO PARK

No Capybara Should Ever Have To Sleep Alone.  In this photo you can see how capybaras like to snuggle together when they sleep.  When each baby arrives she tries to push into the middle of the group for maximum warmth!, Jostling and waking up all the others. Hinase’s babies,  Ricky, Ryoko, Keiko and Sumera together with Aoba and Butter at Nagasaki BIO PARK

6.  You will also want to prepare an area for your capybara to use as its toilet. Capybaras are eminently trainable, and are naturally very clean. A large pan with water in it is ideal, as capybaras prefer to defecate in water. They also often like to do their poohs when you are  ‘defecating’, so an ideal location for their “potty pan” is in your bathroom.   Little Tuff’n frequently joined me when I went to the bathroom.   When your baby capybara first arrives it would be a good idea to also have a potty pan in the bedroom for ease of access while you are training it to use the potty pan. Then you can easily get up during the night and take baby capybara over to the potty pan and pre-empt any accidents! Capybaras quickly learn words like “Go Potty”, or “Go to the Potty Room”. While they are poohing and after they have poohed, reinforce their good behaviour by saying “Good Boy, Romeo “, using of course the capybaras name. If you are not, and I hope you are not, using food treats as a reward, your capybara will respond very well indeed to praise. Praise is a far more effective reward tool than food.   It also has the added advantage of strengthening the bond between you and your capybara. (More on potty training in a future blog).

Romeo and Tuff'n in the Bathroom doing their 'Potty' routine! They usually like to go together.

Romeo and Tuff’n in the Bathroom doing their ‘Potty’ routine! They usually like to go together.

Marvin and Elizabeth have removed all cables from their house with the exception of those in the computer room. The computer room has a child gate to prevent the capybaras entering, although a baby capybara would be able to squeeze through the bars. The solution to this is to put a thick towel over the child gate so the baby capybara cannot see the bars and therefore does not try to enter the room.   They have also removed all non-essential furniture.

I would recommend keeping a supply of Bene-bac in your refrigerator. It is not expensive and it is not a medicine, but is designed to augment the friendly bacteria in an animal’s gut, and is akin to the Activa probiotic yoghurt that humans eat.   Marvin and Elizabeth believe this product is a lifesaver, and could have saved the life of Templeton, their first capybara.  Time could be of the essence which is why it is recommend to keep a supply on hand.  (Available from Petco)  They use it whenever the poohs indicate that something may be wrong, such as if the capybara becomes constipated or the poohs become soft.  “Bene-Bac Small Animal Powder is a concentrated live culture of four common digestive bacteria found in the intestinal tracts of mammals. Bene-Bac is recommended any time an animal experiences stress from changing nutritional or environmental conditions. Contains 20 million CFU per gram of viable lactic acid producing bacteria. Powder formula is easy to mix with water.”

http://www.petco.com/product/106421/PetAg-Bene-Bac-Small-Animal-Powder.aspx

Little Tuff'n sleeping on his bed of hay

Little Tuff’n sleeping on his bed of hay

Even with all these changes to their home to ensure a capybara friendly environment for their new family member, an unforeseen disaster can still occur.

On my last day with Romeo and Tuff’n we were all harnessed and ready to go out grazing when the Jehovah’s Witnesses arrived! They were very nice people but stayed a very long time. Romeo began to get a bit bored as he had no interest in converting to this strange human religion. He started sniffing around and somehow got his upper incisors trapped under the metal plate securing the carpet where it bordered the tiled area at the entrance to the front door. He was trapped with his nose pressing against the floor. Fortunately Marvin was there and able to move Romeo’s head and release him. All he suffered was a slightly chipped tooth. He went off to the other side of the living room and spent a few minutes feeling for the damage and recovering, with all of us petting and trying to reassure him.

The good news was  “Romeo’s tooth grew back in 10 days. He has his perfect smile back”.

Romeo's Chipped Tooth

Romeo’s Chipped Tooth

If Marvin had not been there I hate to think what would have happened. Putting myself in Romeo’s position I would have been absolutely terrified and completely panicked finding myself trapped with my nose pushed against the floor and possibly having trouble breathing. At best Romeo might have had the strength to pull the metal plate upwards and release his teeth, but at what injury to his mouth and teeth?   At worst he would have been trapped there for some time in a state of extreme stress, fear and panic.   Animals can die of stress.

All this happened in a house in which a great deal of time and thought had been given to ensuring that there was nothing that could cause injury to a capybara.

The moral is “NEVER LEAVE A CAPYBARA ON ITS OWN”. If you can’t be with it 24 hours a day, please choose another animal.

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What Should I Feed My Pet Capybara?

Marvin and Elizabeth asked me to write this blog. They felt that when their first capybara came to live with them the information they needed was not available on the Internet.

Please Don’t Let Any More Capybaras Die Prematurely.

Templeton, The Brightest of Stars, who should still be with us today

Templeton, The Brightest of Stars, who should still be with us today

 

Templeton, The Brightest of Stars, two weeks before he passed away In the wild baby Capybaras stand look out on their Mother while she sleeps.

Templeton, two weeks before he passed away
In the wild baby Capybaras stand look out on their Mother while she sleeps.

What Should I Feed My Pet Capybara?

This blog is written in memory of Templeton, a young capybara, the brightest of stars, who died far too prematurely when he was only four months old. Marvin and Elizabeth believe that his diet caused his death. They did not feed him junk food, but they did feed him a lot of corn and carrots which his young digestive system could not cope with

Put simply:  DO NOT FEED YOUR CAPYBARA ANYTHING WITH ADDED SUGAR AND ABSOLUTELY NO CANDY or  JUNK FOOD, or  SWEET FRUIT or Bird Seed.

Rodents are addicted to sugar and sweet foods. Another reason I would never introduce anything sweet into a capybara diet as this can lead to the capybara becoming curious about other foods which he/she had never shown any interest in before.

Templeton, So Full of Life and Oh So Cute. Here he is with Yellow Cat

Templeton, So Full of Life and Oh So Cute. Here he is with Yellow Cat

The capybara digestive system evolved over 30 million years to take advantage of a diet that was high in fibre and low in nutritional content. If you want your capybara to live a long and healthy life you should try to replicate this diet as closely as possible.

Sugar and Stress are two of the most potentially life-threatening causal factors a pet capybara can encounter. Capybaras should not be given anything with sugar in it like candy, ice cream, sweetened yoghurt, ice lollies etc. Neither should they be given junk food; this seems like common sense but it is surprising how many people, out of ignorance, will feed their pets whatever junk food they are eating. In addition, Exotic Animal Vets warn about the potential harm in feeding the naturally occuring ‘sugar’ in sweet vegetables and fruit, specifically mentioning sweetcorn because of the high sugar content, so you can imagine how disastrous any food with added sugar would be.

Templeton, So Friendly and Adorable

Templeton, So Friendly and Adorable

Animals do not have the same tolerance for unnatural feed that humans have. This is especially true in the case of a capybara, where its digestive system is exceptionally sensitive, and has been described by at least one expert as the ‘weak link’ in terms of capybara health. I know of at least two capybaras who died very prematurely, in one case after only a few months, because of diet.

The healthiest pet capybaras that I have met are fed a diet of fresh untreated grass, hay (Orchard Hay and Timothy Hay which are not too high quality), aquatic reeds and guinea pig feed.

The olive shaped, green, separated droppings  are a sign of a healthy capybara in the wild.  Softer, sausage shaped faeces are an indication that the capybara is being fed the wrong diet. Fruit, carrots, sweet corn etc may be responsible.

Please also see this blog for information about plants, chemicals and other potentially lethal dangers that capybaras may encounter:
https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/capybaras-beware-of-toxic-plants-chemicals-and-poisonous-animals-like-scorpions-and-snakes-humans-remove-these-from-your-land-garden-and-yard-%e3%82%ab%e3%83%94%e3%83%90%e3%83%a9%e3%81%ab/

Romeo Never Chews Pillowcases or Plastic, if he wants something to chew on he goes to his Bale of Hay in the living room

Romeo Never Chews Pillowcases or Plastic, if he wants something to chew on he goes to his Bale of Hay in the living room

HEALTHY TEETH:  To avoid your pet capybara ending up with very painful, life threatening (not to mention expensive) teeth problems, it is essential to include a lot of coarse grazing in a capybara diet.  Unlimited Fresh grass should be a staple part of every capybara diet.   Lower quality hay is more suitable for a capybara’s digestive system and means they will eat more, which equates to more fiber and more tooth wear. The coarseness of the hay keeps their teeth ground down and healthy. This need to keep their teeth healthy should never, ever be underestimated. It is very important for capybara teeth to be kept in check, as they would be in the wild grazing on coarse grasses. I have seen capybaras chewing on twigs and stones as a method of self-help dentistry. Capybaras may grind their teeth when they sleep, which also helps keep their teeth in check.

Tuff'n Asleep on his Bale of Hay

Tuff’n Asleep on his Bale of Hay

The Hay and Guinea pig feed should be available 24/7. In the case of Romeo and Tuff’n, there is a large bale of Orchard/Timothy Hay mix in the living room. Whenever the capybaras want to chew on something, or they feel hungry, they go to the hay (or guinea pig feed). This means they do not chew pillowcases, plastic, comforters or any other inappropriate items of furniture.

Romeo and Tuff'n Feasting on their Bale of Hay

Romeo and Tuff’n Feasting on their Bale of Hay

Marvin and Elizabeth believe a product called ‘Bene-bac’ (which is a pro-biotic) is a lifesaver, and could have saved the life of Templeton, their first capybara.  They use it whenever the poohs become softer and sausage shaped. Bene-Bac Small Animal Powder is a concentrated live culture of four common digestive bacteria found in the intestinal tracts of mammals. Bene-Bac is recommended any time an animal experiences stress from changing nutritional or environmental conditions. Contains 20 million CFU per gram of viable lactic acid producing bacteria. Powder formula is easy to mix with water.   It comes in 4 different types – the Benebac designed for rabbits is the correct one to use.

Constipation: Benebac can also be used to treat constipation. It is important to ensure your capybara drink enough water and has access to fresh water to drink 24 hours a day. A healthy diet of unrestricted access to fresh grass should ensure a capybara does not become constipated. You should always consult your vet as soon as you become concerned.

The best animal trainers do not use food as a reward. Capybaras are highly intelligent. In the opinion of many capybara owners they are at least as intelligent as the most intelligent dogs. They are also highly sophisticated emotionally. They respond very well to praise, and are very sensitive to the tone of voice, with a surprisingly large vocabulary. If you say to Romeo “Good Boy, Romeo”, he swells up with pride. This is far more rewarding to him than a sweet toxic food treat.

A new study suggests that most dogs respond more positively to praise than to food.

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/dogs-would-rather-get-belly-rub-treat?utm_source=newsfromscience&utm_medium=facebook-text&utm_campaign=wantatreat-6517

Romeo sleeping

Romeo sleeping

The danger with giving them inappropriate food treats is that they will soon only do what you want in return for a treat. If it is a high energy treat they will no longer eat the copious amounts of grass and hay that they need to maintain a healthy digestive system.

Capybaras are highly emotional animals and do not react well to stress, which can lead to digestive problems. In the wild capybaras have the support of, and close proximity to the herd, for their emotional well-being. As house pets they suffer from separation anxiety to a very high degree if the human with whom they have bonded is not with them. This probably reflects 30 million years of evolution wherein a lone capybara, abandoned by the herd or separated from it, would have little chance of survival.   If you are going to live with a pet capybara it would be kinder to let the capybara bond with another animal who will remain at home all day with the capybara, rather than have him/her bond with you and suffer everytime you have to go out (to work, shopping etc).  A border collie might be the ideal companion.

 

Romeo, Tuff'n and Elizabeth: a Happy Family Portrait

Romeo, Tuff’n and Elizabeth: a Happy Family Portrait

This is the information Kapi’yva Exotics, a leading breeder of exotic animals, provides for capybara diet on its website:

“Capybaras are true herbivores, their diet in the wild consists almost exclusively of various grasses. In captivity, their diet should consist primarily of guinea pig or livestock feed and plenty of fresh grass or hay. Capybaras do not naturally produce adequate amounts of vitamin C and they can develop scurvy as a result of vitamin C deficiencies. In the wild the large amounts of fresh grass they consume provides the extra vitamin C they need. In captivity, their diet must contain either plenty of fresh grass for grazing or a vitamin C supplement. Most commercial guinea pig diets will contain a vitamin C supplement but these can be very costly if you are feeding multiple adult capybaras. Mazuri and LabDiet guinea pig formulas are available in 25lb and 50lb bags and can be found at, or specially ordered at most feed stores. A much cheaper alternative is livestock or rabbit feed. If used as a staple diet extra vitamin C should be added. The easiest method I’ve found of doing this is to dust or mix their feed with ascorbic acid powder.

I DO NOT recommend feeding fruits, vegetables or other items containing large amounts of sugar on a daily basis. There is some evidence that diets containing large amounts of sugar, even from healthy sources, can cause liver and heart problems.

They have evolved as grazers, feeding primarily grass/hay and guinea pig feed is the best way to mimic their natural diet.”

Some people give horse feed instead of guinea pig pellets primarily for reasons of cost. It is important to read the ingredients of any formula feed as this will dictate your choice.   As horses are considered more valuable than cattle, horse feed is likely to be made of more high-quality ingredients.”

Romeo and Tuff'n love fresh grass. They have absolutely no desire for junk food

Romeo and Tuff’n love fresh grass. They have absolutely no desire for junk food

Below I include some information on what not to feed and why. The information comes from exotic pet vets and experienced capybara owners who have done a great deal of research.

Grazing on Unknown Grass: One capybara owner wrote: “We are very cautious about feeding unknown grass. Our rule of thumb, is that if it’s long and neglected, we’ll try it. If it looks too well taken care of, we fear poisons and leave it. It is more likely that fertilisers and weedkillers will be applied to well cared for grass. You also have to always check grass for toxic weeds. We have nightshade in this area. I don’t even know if they would actually eat it, but I’m very cautious.  Water effects fertilizers, but that would not be my main concern. I worry about insecticides and herbicides, which are usually designed to have residual effects that erode over time, not by water.”

Alfalfa:  An exotic pet vet at a leading university veterinary school is quoted as saying ” Absolutely no alfalfa, it is too rich.”  It may also be too high in calcium.

Calcium:  “There may be a concern about too much calcium for rodents and animals who extract extra nutrients through hindgut fermentation, this includes capybaras. There may be a risk of bladder stones or grit from excess calcium. Here’s a hay chart on calcium levels: http://www.guinealynx.info/hay_calcium.html “.

Vegetables:  The Capybaras at Nagasaki Bio Park, some of whom lived to a ripe old age (at least 13 years) were fed vegetables in season. When I was there it was cabbage, carrots and pumpkin. The capybaras at the Bio Park who eat the most carrots do not produce healthy olive shaped faeces. The faeces is soft, barely even sausage shaped.   One capybara owner had this to say about carrots: “I have read online that the sugar level in carrots is on a par with apples and that because of the fat soluble vitamin A, if fed too much (or in a combination with other sources like alfalfa) the vitamin A can build up to toxic levels. She feeds one carrot a day.”

Sweetcorn: every Exotic Pet Vet with experience of capybaras was unanimous in saying you should not feed sweetcorn to capybaras. It is far too sweet.

I would remove all seeds and berries from my garden/yard as soon as they fall from trees.

Below is some information taken from research done on capybaras in the wild in South America:

This excellent book, see link below, is a collection of research papers on capybara, unfortunately finance for research comes from the agricultural industry so that is the primary focus of the research, but there is still a lot of very useful information:

http://www.springer.com/life+sciences/ecology/book/978-1-4614-3999-8

The capybara, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, is a herbivorous semi aquatic mammal that grazes near water. A number of physiological and morphological adaptations of the capybaras digestive system allowed this species to meet its energy requirements from a diet with a high fibre and low nutritional content and silica deposits.

These highly fibrous diet components are extremely difficult to digest, therefore herbivores possess specific adaptations for the digestion of these materials. The best known and most common adaptation to a high fibre diet among mammals is fermentation by symbionts (by bacteria and fungi and protozoa), coupled with mechanisms for the digestion and absorption of the products of fermentation. Among mammals there are two distinct types of symbiotic digestion where fermentation occurs. 1) foregut fermentation, as found in cows, and 2) hindgut fermentation as found in rodents.

Hindgut fermenters use the cecum, located between the small and large intestines, as a fermentation chamber, which precludes regurgitation and re-swallowing the fermented plants as a strategy for the absorption of nutrients. In the case of the capybara the process of cecotrophy allows a daily cycle of feeding and reingestion: food goes once along the digestive tract, entering the cecum where it is fermented and then excreted. These excreted products are taken directly from the anus by the herbivore and they pass one more time through the entire digestive tract.  The waste products bypass the cecum and move onto the large intestine, where hard dry faeces are excreted (but not reabsorbed this time). The two processes occur within a 24 hour cycle. It has been argued that, since hindgut fermenters can take advantage of any available directly digestible (i.e. non-fibre) nutrients before the bacterial fermentation takes place, they are more efficient at extracting nutrients from food than foregut fermenters stop

The capybara diet, in the wild, consists mainly of grasses with varying a portion of sedges and just a few other plants

During the wet season when plants are more abundant, capybaras are more selective and spend more time grazing on Hymenachne amplexicaulis, an aquatic grass of high caloric and low fibre content, then on less palatable reeds.

Capybaras are considered predominately diurnal, however groups have been observed grazing during the night.

In the tropics, capybaras spend 31% of their time grazing during the wet season, and 42% in the dry season.

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